Barack Obama was elected in part because his signature slogan of “Yes we can!” resonated with many Americans, including all-important independent voters. For his presidency to succeed Mr. Obama now has to create the circumstances that allow his supporters to do. Do what? That thing they want to do.
Problem is that modern America is not about doing as much as it used to be. Today it’s as much or more about not being blamed. Regulation demands compliance, as do litigation and taxation. All three conspire to undo the can-do attitude of capitalistic Americans before they even begin.
The idea of freedom as personal power got pushed aside in recent decades by a new idea of freedom — where the focus is on the rights of whoever might disagree. Daily life in America has been transformed. Ordinary choices — by teachers, doctors, officials, managers, even volunteers — are paralyzed by legal self-consciousness. Did you check the rules? Who will be responsible if there’s an accident? A pediatrician in North Carolina noted that “I don’t deal with patients the same way any more. You wouldn’t want to say something off the cuff that might be used against you.”
Here we stand, facing the worst economy since the Great Depression, and Americans no longer feel free to do anything about it. We have lost the idea, at every level of social life, that people can grab hold of a problem and fix it. Defensiveness has swept across the country like a cold wave. We have become a culture of rule followers, trained to frame every solution in terms of existing law or possible legal risk. The person of responsibility is replaced by the person of caution. When in doubt, don’t.
Obviously this is no way to succeed. It order to achieve, risks have to be taken. There are no substitutes for daring, no platitudes that can replace a gung-ho attitude. The over-regulation of American business by government ties creativity to a mountain of permission forms that must be filled out before an idea can be pursued. Is anyone surprised that we’ve lost our edge?
Certainly the same is true in medicine and education, once-respected positions that are now struggling to find the next generation of workers to take the place of today’s aging practitioners. Tough to do when most doctors don’t want their children to follow in their footsteps. Why? Because of the legal and administrative headaches caused by excessive regulation and the ever-present threat of litigation.
Yes we can! Really?